Beyond the Grave
A book review for parents
This mystery adventure book by Jude Watson is the fourth book in "The 39 Clues" series and is published by Scholastic, Inc.
Beyond the Grave is written for kids ages 9 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
In the first book in "The 39 Clues" series (The Maze of Bones), Dan and Amy Cahill's wealthy grandmother, Grace, dies and leaves a challenge to her large extended family: Whoever finds the 39 clues she's left behind will gain wealth and prestige beyond their wildest dreams. Orphaned Amy (age 14) and her brother, Dan, (age 11) are determined to outplay their vicious, devious family members.
In book four, Irina Spasky (former KGB agent and 39 clues competitor) chases Dan and Amy through the marketplace in Cairo, Egypt. A young archaeologist named Theo rescues them and guides them through several museums and tombs where they're seeking clues. Using a frequent traveler card they've stolen from rival Uncle Alistair, the kids and their young au pair, Nellie, check into a fancy hotel suite. Inside the room, they find a secret passage to the Ekat stronghold. (The Ekats are one of the four Cahill family branches, the group to which Alistair and his uncle, Bae, belong.) Bae traps the kids in the Ekat lair, and they begin to wonder why their supposedly loving grandmother involved them in such a dangerous quest without providing more help. After Nellie rescues Dan and Amy, Grace's best friend, Hilary, who lives in Cairo, tracks down the children. She renews their faith in their grandmother by producing a clue Grace left specifically for them, as well as the artifact (a statue of the goddess Sakhet) they've been searching for since arriving in Egypt. A map hidden inside the Sakhet statue leads them to Queen Nefertari's tomb. Theo and Hilary try to steal the Sakhet figurine when Irina offers them money for it, but they are foiled by Nellie. When the kids realize their next clue is buried beneath the Nile, Alistair takes them in his homemade submarine. The Ekat stronghold is ransacked, and Dan and Amy learn it was the work of the most mysterious Cahill family branch, the Madrigals.
One of Grace's clues is a Christmas card with a manger scene on it. Dan finds a Bible in the hotel drawer. The kids eventually refer to it, looking up Matthew 2:11 when they realize that Grace is leading them to a clue involving myrrh.
Nellie, the young punk-rocker au pair, serves as Dan and Amy's primary adult figure. She often allows them to hunt for clues by themselves and treats them as equals rather than children in need of guidance and discipline. Hilary tries to steal an artifact from Dan and Amy; she feels slighted because Grace didn't leave her money in her will. Theo betrays the kids' trust by helping Hilary (his grandmother). Alistair, Dan and Amy all question the sincerity of Grace's concern and love for her grandchildren; they wonder if, by sending them on this hunt for clues, she has encouraged them to be criminals and/or placed them in excessive danger. Alistair bugs Dan and Amy's room, partially out of concern for their well-being. Though he is a competitor, he feels affection for the orphaned children. He helps them look for underwater clues and get to a safe hotel until they can travel to their next destination.
Other Belief Systems
Dan and Amy search for a statue of Sakhet, most powerful of all Egyptian goddesses, who is known for her divine retribution and vengeance. She nearly destroyed the whole human race once on orders from the god Ra, according to a legend. In Nefertari's tomb is a painting of Osiris, god of the underworld. His wife, Isis, is pictured leading Nefertari into the underworld. Natives believe that people who disturb the tombs of the dead will themselves die quickly. Nellie says that Hilary's greed has led to bad Karma. Dan says Nellie worships her iPod. He also says luck is like Halloween candy: For a while you get to eat good things, then you're scraping the bottom and break your teeth on old, hard pieces.
Dan uses the word fart. Discussing the mummification process, he explains how brains were extracted by pulling at them until they liquefied and oozed out the nose.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- Have you ever had a physical problem, like Dan does with his asthma?
Did it bother you or keep you from doing all the things you wanted to do?
What did you do about it?
Or have you known someone who had a physical struggle that slowed him or her down?
How can you be sensitive and kind to a person like this?
- Why does it bother Dan so much that his sister likes to follow rules?
Why do we have rules, such as those given to us by God and our parents?
How do they help us?
Is it possible to be too focused on rules? Explain your answer.
- How do all of the deception and lying in the contest begin to take a toll on Dan and Amy?
What makes them recognize that they are becoming like the other Cahills?
How do they turn things around?
What are some ways you can you recognize when your behavior is leading you down a dangerous path?
How can you make positive changes to get back on track?
- Why does Amy begin to distrust Grace and her motives?
What helps her to realize that Grace has always been on her side?
Which characters turn out to be trustworthy and which don't?
How would you feel if someone told you (as Grace's lawyer warned Dan and Amy) never to trust anyone.
In whom or what in your life can you safely put your trust?
- Why are Dan's and Amy's memories of their grandmother so important?
What kept Amy from retaining some of the special memories Dan has of Grace?
Have you ever found yourself so concerned about silly things that you missed the beauty of an ordinary day with friends or family?
How can you be more aware of, and more thankful for, each day?
- What kind of a role model is Grace?
Was she a good grandmother when she was alive?
Should she, as Alistair suggests, have protected Dan and Amy more from the Cahills and the search for the clues?
Was it wise for her to encourage young children to embark on such a dangerous hunt, on which they've had to lie, steal and cheat to succeed?
- How does Amy feel when she realizes that the Cahills were behind dangerous inventions like chemical warfare and the atomic bomb?
Why does she feel so terrible?
How does Bae Oh respond to Amy's feelings?
Do you think evil can be embedded into a person's DNA?
Is a person responsible for what his or her ancestors have done?
What are some of the good choices your ancestors made, and how can you learn from them?
What are some poor choices, and how can you learn from those?
- What emotions does Irina struggle with in this book?
What causes her to ponder death and rebirth?
What choices has she made that led her to what she considers small, dark places?
Can Irina change?
Have you or someone you know found yourself in a bad place in life that you don't feel you can get out of?
Where can you go for help?
- What does Amy do when she and Dan are trapped and she doesn't feel brave?
Can acting brave make you feel braver?
Have you ever tried it? If so, explain what happened.
- What did you learn about Egyptian history, customs and beliefs from this story?
What have you learned about Egypt from the Bible?
How do the beliefs of the ancient Egyptians differ from your beliefs about death and the afterlife?
Notes: Lying: The kids, Nellie and other characters do a fair amount of lying. When Irina is chasing them, Amy lies and tells Theo that Irina is just someone on their tour. Theo lies about writing a book so he can get himself and the kids into a tomb that has limited public access. Alistair notes that none of the Cahills know how to trust, and with good reason, since they've all betrayed each other so many times.
Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.